Kentucky 97, Pikeville 66:  Postmortem

I think we all saw what we expected to see -- a team full of skilled high school players with a couple of juniors run around and play AAU ball.

It's axiomatic that the team you see in November doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the team you see in January, and that's likely to be true for this team as well.  Tonight, the 2010-11 Wildcats got their first taste of real college basketball against some former Division I players, and although they were still much the best, they have to know that this sort of effort is going to put them in jeopardy more often than not in the SEC, or against North Carolina, or Washington, or Michigan State.

One thing's for sure -- this Kentucky team loves to run the floor, and they do it very well, even late in the game.  When they finally all get into game shape, it will be interesting to see what happens to opponents in the second half.  The other side of that coin is that this isn't a deep team, and to play at this frenetic pace, the team needs a bit of depth.  Calipari is going to have to find more minutes for guys like Jon Hood.

There were a lot of things to like about tonight, and a lot of things to give the Big Blue Faithful doubts.  What I am not really worried about is free throw shooting, despite early struggles at the line.  Most of free throw shooting is keeping yourself in a positive frame of mind, and not leaning on the release.  Doron Lamb did just that his first couple of attempts, and predictably bricked them off the back.  You gotta go straight up for free throws, guys, and just remember that if you can't hit a 15-foot shot, you shouldn't even be thinking about shooting a 20'9" attempt.

Observations:

  • Brandon Knight is going to give teams fits -- much like John Wall did, but in a different way.  He's a step slower and a bit smaller, but he has better body control on the floor and much better judgment with the ball in his hands than Wall did at this point.  They say we shouldn't compare the two, which makes me just want to do it every single game.  And I will.  Deal with it.

    Knight had a great line, and a very good game.  22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 4 TO's.  His turnovers might not be that high again all year.
  • Terrance Jones did not play well tonight.  He didn't seem to be in the game from the start, and is clearly not comfortable playing inside the paint.  He is going to have to get more comfortable there somehow.
  • Darius Miller was steadily productive the whole game, although he vanished a bit in the early second half.  But 21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 turnovers is a line that we need from him every game.
  • Both Knight and Miller were great from the line.  I expect they will be taking the lions share of the free throws, if tonight was any indication.
  • DeAndre Liggins.  Game Ball.  That kid has improved so much in every aspect of the game, I just can't believe it.  Defensively, he is indispensable.  He is the heart and soul of this team in every way.

    Do you remember Las Vegas in 2007 when Liggins basically refused to go in for Billy Gillispie?  How far has he come?  How much has he matured?  It almost cannot be measured with current technology.
  • Eloy Vargas has been away from D-I competition for a long time, and it showed -- against NAIA comp.  He is going to be a bit of a project for the foreseeable future.
  • Harrellson was just okay.  He had 7 rebounds, which tied him with Liggins for team high, but he is capable of more game than we saw tonight.
  • Stacey Poole gave a couple of good minutes.  Nice floater in the lane.  He will be a factor in a year or two.
  • Doron Lamb was just okay.  He gets beat a little too easily off the bounce, but he did a decent job on the boards.  He has to shoot the ball better from the perimeter.
  • Jon Hood did a few good things, but not enough.  He needs to step up his game.
  • Effort was excellent tonight, with Liggins leading the way.  Brandon Knight and Darius Miller were hard on his heels.

Overall, we cannot be happy about two things -- rebounding and ballhandling.  Kentucky had 15 turnovers, and got outrebounded on the offensive glass (OR%) by a wide margin.  That's going to give Calipari major heartburn.  I shudder to think about having to look at second-chance points in this game.

Pikeville is a very decent NAIA team, and it showed tonight.  The Wildcats didn't exactly struggle, but they had issues that need to be addressed, and I'm sure none of them really surprised Coach Cal except for the lack of success on the glass against the smaller Bears.  Also, this Kentucky team is not really in game shape -- they should be able to run others off the floor, and Kentucky was a little gassed at the end.  Speed and endurance are what will make this team dangerous, and tonight, they showed that they have not reached the level of stamina they will need for this season.

Overall, a good outing, particularly effort-wise.  Execution-wise, a bit of a disappointment -- probably as we should expect.

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